I’m a big fan of the Meze Audio 99 Series headphones. Not only do they sound and look great but they’re affordable and built to last. Their modular design ensures that if any part fails you can easily replace the damaged part rather than be forced to buy an entirely new headphone. They also have detachable cables which means cable upgrades are a simple plug and play affair. So when asked if I would like to test the new Meze99 Series 2.5 balanced cable I said: “Yes, indeed I would.”
In case you’re not familiar with Meze Audio’s full-sized headphones (every audiophile should be!) you can check out my reviews of the Meze 99 Classics here and Meze 99 Neo here.
Cable feels very durable and has solid strain reliefs
Left and right connectors have clearly visible indicators
Cable may have kinks out of the box
Package and Accessories
The Meze 99 Series 2.5 balanced cable comes in a small grey cardboard box with a list of features and a little transparent viewing window. Inside is a transparent plastic tray holding the wound cable. It’s super simple but practical, although I did notice that my cable hadn’t been wound tightly enough to fit properly in the tray which resulted in some deformation which I’ll talk about in the next section.
Build Quality and Design
First impressions out of the box are that the cable feels utilitarian and robust. So we have a silver-plated high-purity OFC copper cable in a transparent TPU coating. It’s brown in colour and fairly low-key from a visual perspective.
It reminds me a lot of the cables I’ve seen come with certain IEMs. In fact, it looks and feels almost identical to the original cable that came with the $20 Tennmak Piano (review here) but this one pretty much never gets tangled.
Starting at the top we have the standard Meze type connectors with clear left and right indicators. Just like the original cables the left side connector has a physical ridge on it so it can be identified by touch – very handy to quickly determine left from right, particularly in low light situations.
The Y-split is a chunky but lightweight combination or hardened rubber and plastic. At the cable’s termination is the 2.5mm TRRS plug. The cable feels good in the hands. It’s sleek and smooth and doesn’t feel at all rubbery or sticky. There is also very minimal microphonics (cable noise) which is, of course, ideal.
Now, I just want to quickly touch on the issue I had with a slight deformation of the cable when it came out of the box. It resulted in a single kink in the cable that try as I might, I cannot straighten out. It’s not a big deal and to be honest you can hardly notice it at all except when the cable is wound up. However, it does feel a little disappointing if you see that during the unboxing and it sours the first impression a little. Hopefully mine is an isolated case and it’s by no means a deal-breaker but something I felt I should mention.
Meze 99 Series 2.5 Balanced Cable vs original cable
There are 2 cables provided in the box with the 99 Classics headphone, 1 short with inline remote and microphone and a longer one without the microphone. The original cables are black in colour and have a braided Kevlar coating below the Y-split. Due to that fabric coated lower section the original cables are more microphonic than the 2.5 balanced upgrade cable.
Maybe I’m focusing on the aesthetics too much but from an appearance and ergonomic point of view, the 2.5 balanced actually feels like a downgrade from the original cables. The originals have a more premium look to them. Admittedly if appearance and comfort are a big deal to you there are other balanced options available from the Meze store albeit more expensive ones
Gear used for testing includes Meze 99 Classics and Meze 99 Neo. The source used was the Radsone Earstudio ES100 paired with the Sony NW-ZX300 and Shanling M0 with both using the LDAC Bluetooth codec. I also plugged it directly into the Sony’s 4.4mm balanced output using a 2.5mm female to 4.4mm male adapter.
The first difference I noticed with the balanced cable was more crispness and extension in the treble. Hi-hats in particular sound more defined and somewhat ‘cleaner’.
A similar effect was observed in the midrange too: instruments and vocals are more forward and have improved clarity. This, in turn, improves separation and layering in the midrange and was especially noticeable when using the balanced output directly from the Sony NW-ZX300. The ES100 showed similar improvements but to a slightly lesser degree.
Bass notes are tighter as well, gaining better-defined edges and making the overall signature of the 99 Classics more balanced. Listening to “Mother – European Tour Edition” by Meniscus on their Absence of I album had me enraptured from start to finish. In fact, the whole album got a thorough listening to with this setup because it was simply too good to interrupt.
So, is it worth shelling out an extra $99 for the Meze 99 Series 2.5 Balanced Cable and would I recommend it? My answer to both of those questions is a resounding yes. While from a purely aesthetic standpoint this cable is decidedly average the improvement in sound quality is well worth the price of admission. If you have a solid balanced source then this is an easy and affordable way to make an amazing headphone sound even better.